Nothing is Private: Lessons Learned from “Weinergate”

After a week of insisting that a hacker was responsible for a lewd picture sent to a Washington state college student , Congressmen Anthony Weiner has finally confessed to tweeting the photo himself. To make matters worse, Weiner also admits he has had online exchanges with several women, some of unknown age but according to Wiener, "they're all adults, at least to the best of my knowledge."

Weiner claims that he does not believe he used any government resources to send the explicit messages and photos, but House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called for "for an Ethics Committee investigation to determine whether any official resources were used or any other violation of House rules occurred."

While Weiner acknowledges that “this was me doing a dumb thing and doing it repeatedly and lying about it,” he is not resigning (at least not yet).  Rest assured, the previous front runner in the race for New York City mayor will have a hard time living this scandal down. The double-entendre headlines and late-night talk show jokes practically write themselves.

Is anyone surprised at this point? “Weinergate” is the third high profile political sex scandal in the past few weeks (see my previous blog about the double whammy scandals of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn).   Sometimes it feels like these guys just never learn … By combining social media, emerging technologies and sexual misconduct, Weiner created a ticking time bomb for crippling public embarrassment and immeasurable career damage.

I will refrain from going deeper into the vulgar details emerging about Weiner’s explicit online activities, and instead address some practical tips to help you avoid this type of reputation damaging embarrassment in your organization.

First, employers need to make clear to all employees (including senior leaders) the limited expectation of privacy they should have when it comes to communications made using company equipment and/or during working time.  Even communications made after hours, using personal equipment can lose their privacy if they have a tangible workplace impact.  Blogging, texting, and tweeting is changing the way we communicate, but also making it easier than ever for people to lower their inhibitions, slip up, and create a permanent electronic trail documenting everything from explicit workplace affairs to clear evidence of sexual harassment. This same electronic trail busted Weiner.

Second, it’s essential that everyone in an organization, from the top down, is trained on your technology use, social media and sexual harassment policies.  When it comes to new technologies, in many organizations, there is a dearth of understanding among employees about what they can and cannot do.  Making matters worse, many prominent leaders feel that the rules don’t apply to them. But when the senior leaders of an organization violate policy, the impact is significantly more damaging and costly.

So while I’d love to say that the tawdry sex scandals for the year are over, more are sure to clog up the news channels in short order.  In the meantime, revise your policies to address social networking, blogging, and texting, and make sure your sexual harassment training programs reinforce your polices – especially the latest trends.

Chat with a solutions expert to learn how you can take your compliance program to the next level of maturity.

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